Since the American military occupation of the southern part of the Korean peninsula (1945-1948), and particularly since the Korean War (1950-1953), the figure of the “yanggongju” (“western princess”/ “yankee whore”) may be seen as central to a Korean national identity that is ambivalent about its relation to the U.S. The yanggongju, as the woman who sexually services American GIs stationed in Korea , is a reminder of Korea 's subordinated status to the U.S. military, and both pro-U.S. and anti-U.S. nationalist battles are waged on the yanggongju body. The yanggongju is a racialized figure for both the foreigners that partake of her services and for the local citizens for whom she bears the stigmas of foreign “contamination.” The biracial children of such unions between Korean women and American servicemen are also highly stigmatized.
The readings and film presented here can be used in Sociology, Political Science, Women's/Gender Studies, or other courses that address race and ethnicity, gender and work, transnational feminism, international relations, social movements, and migration/immigration.
For additional related units, see “Not Color Blind: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in East Asia.”
Selected Readings and Film
For suggestions on how to use these in the classroom, see Student Readings, Activities, and Discussion Questions below.
Kim, Hyun Sook. “Yanggongju as an Allegory of the Nation: Images of Working-Class Women in Popular and Radical Texts.” Pp. 185-202 in Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism, edited by Elaine Kim and Chungmoo Choi. New York : Routledge, 1998.
Moon, Katharine. Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations . New York : Columbia University Press, 1997. Also available as an e-book through some university libraries.
The Women Outside: Korean Women and the U.S. Military . (documentary film). Directed by J.T. Takagi and Hye Jung Park . 1995. 60 minutes. VHS. Available for rental ($75-$85) and purchase ($225) from Third World Newsreel ( http://www.twn.org ) and Asian Educational Media Services (http://www.aems.uiuc.edu/index.html ).
The readings and film listed above could be used in anywhere from one to four class sessions.
The Prologue and Chapter One of Moon's Sex Among Allies (pages 1-47) provides a good introduction to the history and current political situation of camptown prostitution in Korea. The Takagi and Park documentary is an excellent companion to this. These pieces can be used together preferably over two class sessions, but they can also be discussed in one longer class session.
Ask students to come to class with a written response to the Moon introduction in which they write about how reading the piece changed any of their preconceived notions of 1) U.S.-Korea relations, 2) prostitution, and 3) gender roles in Korea . Then show the film and ask students to discuss the film in relation to the book. A major theme in both the film and the book is that Korean military sex workers are invisible yet powerful force in U.S.-Korea relations.
Some possible discussion questions around the theme of the role of military sex workers in U.S.-Korea relations:
Chapter Three of Moon (pp. 57-83) could be used to deepen the discussion of U.S. military prostitution, or it would work well alone for a class on U.S.-Korea relations, or on the role of women's emotional/sexual labor in geopolitics.
If instructors would like to spend another class session on this unit, the Kim essay gives a critical analysis of how the military sex worker has become a symbol of national identity in Korea , and offers a nice counterpoint to the Moon chapters. Rather than framing military prostitution as something that is hidden and unacknowledged, Kim shows how it is an organizing motif in Korean national identity. Kim's piece could also stand alone in a discussion of transnational feminism or national identity.